It's Not Your Dad's (or Mom's) Dining Hall Any More
If you had the opportunity to visit the Rutgers Dining Services' tent at this year's Great Tomato Tasting -- held at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station's Snyder Research Farm -- you probably sampled the delicious smoked tomato bisque and several fresh salsas prepared by Chefs Peter Imranyi and David Mulé. (Get the recipes and try them yourself!) Tasters at the tent marveled at the freshness and creativity of the dishes, which used a number of Jersey Fresh ingredients. Many of the visitors might have silently wondered whether this sort of cuisine was typical of what a student might find in a Rutgers dining hall.
The answer is, emphatically, yes!
Rutgers is very proud of its Dining Services, which is overseen by alumnus Joe Charette (CC '77) as executive director. The operation is one of the largest collegiate dining services in the country and runs four student dining facilities, serving more than 5 million meals annually. An additional 13 cash facilities serve more than 400,000 meals, and Rutgers Catering, which it also runs, provides service for more than 5,000 university events.
According to Charette, Dining Services takes great pride in the products it offers students. In fact, he notes, parents who visit Cook Campus' Neilson Dining Hall (or any of the dining halls) when they are dropping their students off at school or come to campus for Parents and Family Weekend often express surprise at the quality and variety of the fare.
Says Charette: "Parents who got used to 'mystery meat' and potatoes every day when they were in college will ask me whether the food they are experiencing in Neilson is typical or something special laid on just to impress parents. I assure them it is typical and even suggest they visit our website listing the daily menus." The website, by the way, also provides nutritional information for each dish offered.
Dining Services emphasizes variety, quality and healthy eating in all cases. The student dining facilities provide a huge array of choices – traditional fare, vegetarian dishes, local foods, and much more. It's not your dad's (or granddad's) dining hall anymore!
On any given day, students can choose from stir fry, the Mongolian grill, veggie ravioli, whole wheat thin crust pizza, custom omelets, a salad bar with more than 20 offerings, grilled fish, crepes, rotisserie chicken, fresh fruit, homemade desserts, as well as the usual deli selections, burgers, grilled cheese and other items favored by young people.
In addition, Dining Services and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences' Department of Nutritional Sciences have come together to create the RU Healthy Dining Team of eight students working under the direction of Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Peggy Policastro (GSNB '93). Their mission "is to educate students about nutrition and encourage them to make healthier food and lifestyle choices."
The RU Healthy Dining Team publishes "Eating 101" newsletter, a weekly print and online publication emphasizing food facts, exercise tips, and friendly advice to help students balance their busy lives. Team members also make appearances at various campus gatherings and set up information tables at the dining halls.
According to Policastro, the goal of the team goes far beyond helping students avoid the dreaded "freshman 15" – the purported weight gain students could experience in their first year away from home. Rather, the team "strives to make food a natural part of a healthy lifestyle that will provide good habits and benefits now and for a lifetime," she concludes.